Two Trips to Charleston

Charleston Travel Guide | Paper Doll Tales

Charleston’s past brushes against skin with the disturbingly material presence of a ghost.  “Pardon me,” you’ll find yourself saying to no one but the Past as you cross Tradd Street at the corner of Church.  It’s impossible to walk through historical downtown and not believe in the imminent revival of hoop skirts, calling cards, cannon fire, and saber-duels.

The past has baked Charleston’s brick sidewalks, suckled the roots of camellia bushes,  blanketed the mansions with elegant manicures of creeping fig.  Reach out and touch the past, you can.  The wrought iron fences.  The earthquake bolts anchoring homes since the late 1800s.  The iconic side piazzas that have hosted hundreds of years of sweet tea.

Charleston Travel Guide | Paper Doll Tales

As a tourist on your first trip to Charleston, you can and should gawk at breathing history.  No other American city comes close to the intimate perfection of past preservation.  But you should also prepare yourself for the vibrant now-ness of this city.  Charlestonians certainly sweat gentility from their every pore, but they also can’t hide a touch of in-the-know snobbery about finding themselves in the middle of an increasingly exciting universe.  Charleston’s present is as eclectic and real as its past.  Thanks to perfectly curated boutique shopping, art galleries, postcard beaches, candy-colored bikes littering every corner, restaurants both inviting and innovative, and activities interesting to every family member no matter the age, Charleston is THE city happening in America today.

My humble opinion just happens to agree with the readers of magazines like Conde Nast Traveler (which rated Charleston the No. 1 Top City in the U.S. and No. 2 Top City in the World in 2014) and  Travel + Leisure (ranked Charleston as nation’s top city two years in a row–2014 and 2015).

 

Charleston Travel Guide | Paper Doll Tales

The only trip better than the first trip to Charleston is the second trip you’re planning out of all the things you can’t experience first time around.  Like my complete inability to eat just one lemon curd cupcake from Sugar Bakeshop or take just one swipe of the goat cheese rolled in pink peppercorns and tarragon from Goat.Sheep.Cow, the more I explore Charleston, the more I want more.  So I hoard recommendations of new restaurants, shops, and sights to such excess that my “must see” list overflows my present trip to fill my next trip.

I present my recommendations for two trips to Charleston (a packed 48 hours for each, please).  The first trip should be your Charleston initiation.  The second will occur when you’re hopelessly head-over-heels in love, y’all come back now, y’hear?  Like the addict you will be when you try those demonly-divine lemon curd cupcakes.


Nathaniel Russel House
Nathaniel Russel House

SEE {first trip}

Carriage Ride

If you skip this Charleston tourist must, you’ll be envious of other travelers before long.  The sound of horseshoes striking cobblestones is an inescapable part of Charleston’s soundtrack due to the numerous horse-drawn carriage tours that ply the streets throughout historic downtown.  The guides are knowledgeable, the history fascinating, and there’s something just plain soothing about the smell of sweating horses and hay.  A fantastic way to get the lay of the land and some historical background on the city before launching out on your own.

Nathaniel Russel House Tour

A number of historically preserved homes are open for public tours.  The Nathaniel Russel happens to be one of our favorites.  The home’s surrounding lawn and gardens are worth a (free) mosey through, but the home’s spectacular spiral staircase and airy rooms are history come to life.  Check in the gift shop for some excellent walking tour guides to Charleston to continue on your exploration.

Edmonston-Alston House Tour

The Edmonston-Alston House, with its multiple storied porches inviting the breezes off of the Battery, is a particular gem in the Charleston crown.  History has happened in this place, as the knowledgeable docent will be sure to inform you.  Stop here to get the insider’s scoop on how Charleston high society feted the opening sallies of the Civil War.

SEE {second trip}

Gibbes Museum | Aiken Rhett House Tour | Charleston Promenades Walking Tour


KIDS {first trip}

Museum of the Lowcountry

Our kids (ages 6 and 3) can easily spend half to a full day playing in the various rooms of the Museum of the Lowcountry: castle room, outdoor discovery garden, art room, water room, rotating exhibits, and a great toddler-only area.  The museum is small, but thoughtfully laid out, with imaginative and interactive play inviting to a wide span of ages.  A great way to beat the summer heat or escape a rainy day.

KIDS {second trip}

Patriots Point | Charles Towne Landing


Savannah Bee Co, Charleston SC | Paper Doll Tales
Savannah Bee Co.

SHOP {first trip}

Savannah Bee Company (216 King Street)

Serving up a tasting table of honeys, all great, but my favorite products are the unexpected finds of a locally roasted honey coffee and divine lotion called Royal Bee Jelly.  Their beeswax lip balm is also a family favorite.

Hampden Clothing (314 King Street)

Designer lines and excitement for fashion.  You will want all the things.

Croghan’s Jewel Box (308 King Street)

A century-old Southern family dynasty jewelry store with exceptional jewelry, but you really don’t want to miss the Gold Bugs line designed by fourth generation Croghan, Mini Outten.  She has crafted jewelry pieces out of bugs (bees and cockroaches, although Southern etiquette demands you call them “palmetto bugs”) that make the perfect, and unique, souvenir for any special woman you know.

SHOP {second trip}

The Commons | Curiosity | Mac and Murphy | Candlefish | Indigo and Cotton


husk
Husk

EAT {first trip}

Jestine’s Kitchen ($$)

Jestine’s was the first restaurant I sampled based on the recommendation of our carriage tour guide back when I was nine years old.  The black eyed peas and collared greens left an early impression, may I say.  We keep coming back.  The line often snakes around the block, but it’s quick and a worthwhile wait for historical, home-cookin’ Southern cuisine.

Butcher and Bee ($$)

Need I say more than this is the Charleston chef hang-out in the late hours.  I’ll say more.  Communal table dining, open kitchen, iced tea served in mason jars, frequently rotating menu, innovative twists on classic favorites (try their fries and ketchup–you’re welcome.)

Husk ($$$)

Do yourself a favor and book your reservation now, no matter how far in advance of your trip.  This trendsetter restaurant is still sweeping the restaurant scene in Charleston with rave reviews of its nouveau-Southern locally-sourced cuisine.  And the restored home (main dining room constructed in 1893) could not be more historical perfection.  Dining by gas lantern.  I’ll take seconds of that.

CRU Cafe ($$$)

Weather permitting, ask for a table on the piazza.  This restaurant, tucked along a side street in historical downtown, allows you to pretend you are dining as an honored guest at a private home.  Tables inside, however, are treated to views of the open, bustling kitchen, so not a bad seat in the house.  Excellent, satisfying, and fresh food.

EAT {second trip}

Chez Nous ($$$) | Xiao Bao Biscuit ($$) | Leon’s Oyster Shop ($$) | Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit ($)


Sugar Bakeshop | Goat.Sheep.Cow
Sugar Bakeshop | Goat.Sheep.Cow

SNACK {first trip}

Sugar Bakeshop

Oh. my. cupcakes.  I don’t usually care for cupcakes, but Sugar Bakeshop’s are perfection and have made me a believer.  The shop alone is eye candy and the mint tea offers salve for tastebuds any time of day any time of year.  But deciding on which cupcakes to sample, well, that’s between you and the siren-temptress display case.  Just make sure you give strong consideration to one (or half a dozen) lemon curd cupcakes.  Eat every crumb in Sugar’s adorable side courtyard.

Goat.Sheep.Cow

No trip to Charleston is complete without a stop by this adorable, tiny gem of a wine/cheese/charcuterie shop.  The wall of wine is expertly chosen, and the store owners talk with genuine enthusiasm and knowledge about every single bottle.  (Spring and summer visitors–trust their Rosés!)  Likewise, the cheese counter.  Goat.Sheep.Cow carefully curates the kind of food store that inspires meals and waters the mouth.  You will not leave empty-handed.

SNACK {second trip}

Glazed | Sweet Lulu’s Bakery On Wheels


Black Tap Coffee, St Alban in Charleston, SC | Paper Doll Tales
Black Tap Coffee | St. Alban

DRINK {first trip}

Black Tap Coffee

Two words: Lavender latte.  Two more words: You’re welcome.  Black Tap‘s clean, welcoming space is only upstaged by their carefully brewed coffee.  It’s the type of place that if you have to grab your coffee and go, you’ll taste residual atmosphere with each sip of caffeine, but if you can spare some moments to unwind, you may find the space and oggling the fellow patrons to be just as unique a treat as the coffee itself.

St. Alban

This newly opened coffee shop/restaurant has quickly gathered a crowd of enthusiastic regulars.  Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, St. Alban serves up excellence in coffee alongside healthy, innovative food, and if you go for the occasional glass of sherry, this is your new home.  The well-appointed decor mixes unique vintage finds with airy, light space.  You will not want to leave, and may easily talk yourself into a second cup of coffee extended into a lunch break.

DRINK {second trip}

The Gin Joint


Edisto Island, Charleston Travel Guide | Paper Doll Tales
Edisto Island, SC

 STAY {first trip}

Waves of Grace

Oh, all right.  I’m hopelessly and unabashedly biased here.  This is my parent’s rental beach house and the home-away-from-home where I’m watching my two little girls grow up with sand between their toes and swimsuit tan lines along their backs.  We love staying on sleepy little Edisto Island and driving one hour to all of the excitement in Charleston.  Sure, there are plenty of hotels right in downtown Charleston, but for a true balance of city/beach life in the lowcountry, try experiencing Charleston while staying on an island nearby–many homes offer rentals ranging from 3-7 nights.  For a beach closer to downtown than Edisto, look for rentals on Kiawah or Sullivan’s Island.

STAY {second trip}

Zero George Street


RESEARCH

Food and Wine | Travel + Leisure | Conde Nast Traveler


INSTAGRAMMERS TO FOLLOW

@abitofcharleston | @dailycharleston | @adventurecharleston | @historiccharlestonfoundation

@explorecharleston | @charlestonpictures | @oliviaraejames


I’ve got my notes open…tell me…what shouldn’t I miss on my third trip to Charleston?

 

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5 Comments

  1. Dad Schoeneck said:

    Vey well done. We should have a copy of this at the beach house.

    June 10, 2015
    Reply
  2. Jo said:

    Such a beautiful city. You couldn’t have said it better. I, too, am in love with this city–a city rich in history, heartache, and beauty.

    June 10, 2015
    Reply
    • James Hendrickson said:

      Great overview of wonderful city. You forgot to mention that Butcher and Bee has free sparkling water on tap…makes me thirst thinking about it.

      Longing for a lavender latte after reading this….

      June 12, 2015
      Reply
  3. Megan said:

    Ok – so I think I’m dubbing 2015 the year of taking all Beth recommendations for travel – Disney ✔️ (solely convinced by you, honestly), DC will be in early August and I think Charleston might just need to be our ninth anniversary celebration. I can’t offer you anything as well written, BUT Coffee Buddha has a lavender honey latte that I had for the first time this morning and it was delicious!! (They also have a maple curry one that I need to try)

    June 15, 2015
    Reply

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